Although Sean Garrett is one of the most respected songwriters within the music industry, he has yet to become a household name. Even so, it would be safe to bet that every American has come into contact with one or more songs from his music catalog. Inside Garrett’s discography, one will find: “Yeah” (Usher), “Lose My Breathe” (Destiny’s Child), “Run It!” (Chris Brown), “London Bridge” (Fergie) and “Break Up” (Mario).
In 2008, Sean Garrett transitioned to the public spotlight, when he released Turbo 919 in Japan, which featured collaborations with Akon, Lil’ Wayne, Ludacris, and Pharrell. The following year, he took his performance on the road – touring with Mario, Trey Songz and Day26 on BET’s 106 & Park Tour – and further established himself as a solo artist.
Fresh off the heels of a successful tour, Garrett received a GRAMMY nomination for his contributions to Beyonce’s I Am…Sasha Fierce! After the first leg wrapped, Sean Garrett managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on his admiration of Lionel Richie, his nine contributions on Destiny Fulfilled and the story behind Jay-Z dubbing him “The Pen.”
In addition to being a singer and songwriter, you are also a producer. At what particular point did you start playing the keys?
You know what’s so ironic about my production — my production was probably the last thing that I started doing. Production was the last thing I did because I was always studying music. And as an artist, I kind of did things backwards. I was an artist first, and then my songwriting started to just really flourish, and then fooling around with being a producer and being an artist was coming along at the same time. So, I think the first thing was definitely my beginning as an artist and knowing that that was my calling — was the point of me knowing that I had a big career as a songwriter, artist, and producer.
Why do you think that your evolution followed that path?
I think because of the passion that I have for music, period. Some of my favorite artists were singers, songwriters and performers — like Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Elton John — they’re people that actually performed the music they wrote. So, that’s definitely the route that I’m taking because that’s what my passion is. I write songs that I feel are great songs, but I feel like only I can perform them and pull them off the way that I feel like they should be performed or written or actually sung. Sometimes it’s a little difficult when you have a song you want to try — you’ve got to try different things. I’m always trying different things. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to push a new artist or an artist that’s been in the game for a long time to do things that they’re not usually used to doing.
At what point did you realize that music was going to be the center of your universe?
To be really honest with you, man, I knew really early. I probably knew when I was three or four years old. I was singing really, really early and my mom was putting me in talent shows. I did my first talent show when I was four or five years old. So I knew really early that music was definitely going to be my calling.
Within the industry, you are known as “The Pen,” which is a nickname that Jay-Z gave you. Was this nickname given in response to a particular accomplishment?
Oh, wow! It was a number of things, when I think about it. Yeah, it definitely spoke to my accomplishments, but I’ve also worked really, really close with his wife, Beyoncé, and I’ve written quite a few big hits for her. So, I think it would have a combination of us, our relationship, in each other all the time. I would always look for his approval when I did a job for her that was crazy. The first hit I ever did for Destiny’s Child was “Soldier.” That record was kind of hood, you know what I’m saying? Something that Jay-Z could respect. And overall, I contributed nine songs to Destiny Fulfilled, which was really huge for me. And after that, I wrote six for Beyonce’s B’Day album.
One of my favorite songs of all-time happens to be “Bad Habit,” which was Kelly Rowland’s solo offering on Destiny Fulfilled. And in my opinion, Destiny Fulfilled was Destiny Child’s best album. When you look back at the group’s final album, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
I think the Destiny Fulfilled album was probably the one accomplishment that made me realize that I had definitely arrived. Up to this date, that’s the last Destiny’s Child album ever with them as a formulated group. And to my knowledge, Destiny’s Child is one of the biggest-selling female groups of all time. So that was a humongous accomplishment for me to have done so many songs on their last album. To my knowledge, no one has worked that closely with Destiny’s Child and was able to score that many records on one album. So for me, that was a huge accomplishment.
You have penned a lot of songs for the industry’s leading men as well. Do you have a specific approach to writing songs for women, or does it flow naturally and organically?
No, I just try and make sure that I do records that I know females across the world are going to respect. I always like to do songs for females that I think females across the world are going to love and that the guys are going to respect. So that’s definitely my approach. First of all, you’ve got to speak the truth when you dealing with a female. That’s the first approach when I’m dealing with a female.
As a young male in a cutthroat industry, at what point did you learn that the music business was just as much about business as it was about the music?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve known that ever since I first started. I think that’s been my edge. Anybody that knows me will tell you that I take music really, really seriously. Even though you can become pretty wealthy at doing it, I don’t take it for granted. I don’t take my accomplishments for granted. I don’t take the fans for granted. I don’t take the music for granted. I take everything really, really seriously. I have fun doing it, but I definitely take it seriously. So, any time I’m doing a record, I know the fans are expecting the best from me so I go in with the definite focus that will put my best foot forward.
Tell me a little bit about your production company.
The name of my production company is called The Practice Team. Our production company probably has about eight producers. We work on different projects. Some of my producers that I’ve worked with more are formulated, come out a little more urban, but I definitely try to deal with producers that have a different edge to them. Over this period of time, I just wanted to be noted for being a very, very consistently hot name and a consistently hot go-to guy. I didn’t want to over saturate myself, but I always wanted to make people respect my music. So over time, no matter what day, what time, what year it is, you can always go to Sean Garrett and get a monster.
For the producers that work underneath you, is there a particular piece of advice that you always give them that has helped you through your career?
Yeah. Number one is to be creative and not follow what everyone else is doing. I hate monotonous music. I hate when people do the same stuff all the time. I always stress this to my producers. I’ll stand up for someone being an individual. Focus on making a name for yourself by being a trailblazer versus being a follower. I look for that and as a producer and someone who has experience as a producer. You’ve got to understand what a producer means. You’ve got to produce. You have to guide people. You have to be a leader as a producer.
Is there a piece of advice that someone in the industry has given you that was really helpful and beneficial?
I think one of the most beneficial people in my life or my business is, of course, Jay-Z. One thing I know about Jay-Z is he leads by example, more so than talking to you. How to handle business, being an artist, how to carry yourself as an artist. I’m definitely a producer’s artist. I’m definitely an artist’s producer. Lionel Richie is also someone that I really look up to. Lionel’s led by example: how to be a songwriter, how to be an artist, how to be a producer, and how to be a great, great person at the same time, on and off the court. Those things are really, really important to me. They make such a difference in your career. I look at my career as a marathon, man. It’s not really a race. So, I’m not really here for the moment. I’m here for a lifetime.
On your website, I noticed a countdown clock. What do you have in store for your fans?
Some very interesting things are going to be happening on my site. I feel like my fans are going to enjoy getting a chance to search my site and see the creative aspects that we brought to the site. We’re going to start there. You’re going to be able to come to my site and find a lot more about Sean Garrett, The Pen, and a lot about the process and what Sean Garrett, The Pen, lives from day-to-day: what I like, my experiences, the things that I see. It’s not going to be all just about Sean Garrett. It’s going to be about the fans, and what people live, as far as their lifestyle. The Pen is a lifestyle, period. I’m on both sides of the gate. The Pen travels across the waters. I mean, I’m international. The Pen is international. The Pen is good. The Pen is modern-day, mainstream America. The Pen is the streets. The Pen, it’s like I said, it’s a lifestyle. And it’s a different perspective on life than your average singer or your average rapper or your average songwriter or producer.
For the past few weeks, you have been on the road touring with Mario and Trey Songz. What has been the most rewarding part of that experience? Most people know you for your songwriting and your production skills, but not necessarily for your singing. Can you walk me through the hurdles that you have to go through in gaining recognition as a solo artist?
I think what’s so great about it is that a lot of people are so surprised. They come to my show and it will be like, “Sean Garrett is one of the most exciting artists on this earth.” I think that’s been noted quite a bit. Just the challenge of proving yourself. Any time you’re a competitor — you know, I’m an athlete by nature, which makes me a competitor, by nature. It’s always a beautiful thing, when you’re a competitor, to have competition and to have doubters and to have your naysayers. I started out as a songwriter. When I first started writing songs, other songwriters were better than me. And the opportunity of proving myself was probably the most rewarding because some of those songwriters that were around then had been friends of mine.
That was a beautiful opportunity for me to show my faith, first in God, and secondly in my pen. And now, as an artist, it’s the same thing. It’s beautiful. I think fans love to see an artist grow and bloom like flowers. So I think my fans have enjoyed seeing me evolve from a new songwriter on the block and come out with a monster smash, like “Yeah!” for Usher, and then break new artists like Ciara, with “Goodies,” and Chris Brown, with “Run It.” I also had a really big hit with Fergie, “London Bridge,” that was the first to explode off of her debut album, which sold seven million worldwide.
A while ago, back in May 2008, you released Turbo 919, a solo project that was only released in Japan. Is there anything from that particular experience that you’re going to translate to your American debut?
One thing I did learn from that approach was that I was definitely headed in the right direction, and just making sure that I’ve got a partner that’s going to stand behind me 100 percent. I think that’s the most important thing. When you do business, when you have a partner, that’s what a partner is, a partner. Our situation is not one-sided in a business relationship. I have my 50 percent, and if my partner’s only willing to benefit from what benefits them, it’s not a fair partnership. So at the end of the day, I was very appreciative of that opportunity. I’m very appreciative of it and very thankful of it and just ready to take this opportunity and go to the next level.
For more information on Sean Garrett, visit his official website.